By Daniel Curry
After being forced to be online for work and school during the pandemic, we are all now concerned about screen time habits in our children. We want them to spend less time online and more time engaged in other activities. This is important for both mental and emotional health as well as physical health (eye strain, not getting exercise, etc.).
How much is too much?
The genie is out of the bottle for technology and all of us – including children. We are all consumers of social media, streaming services, online news and more. There is an assumption that adults are more able to make good choices for a balanced approach to screen time, and that children need to be trained and supported in developing good habits.
In the past, there have been many competing studies about how much screen time is appropriate for children. While there are many different outcomes, almost all of them say we should avoid all screen time for children 2 and younger. That means not using screens as babysitters at all for this group. As children grow older, the amount of screen time can increase.
A good rule of thumb for screen time is a max of 2 hours per day for kids (for non school/work related usage). Young children in elementary schools should be limited to 1 hour. This is a reasonable amount of time to be glued to a screen playing games or watching YouTube. There are so many other activities that are engaging and can be more interesting once the children engage in them.
How do I manage their screen time usage?
Providing an alternative is the best way to manage screen time. Just telling a child ‘turn that off’ with no reasonable alternative is not compelling. You can develop a set routine or schedule that requires them to be off the screen by doing chores, helping with dinner, playing football outside, taking music lessons, etc. In this case, they don’t even think about or miss the screen time since they are actively participating in good activities. They are getting the positive brain chemicals from physical activity instead of from a flashing screen.
Children may blame the need to do homework for their extensive screen time. The best schools in Gurgaon have progressive approaches that limit excessive homework. They also typically have homework that is hands-on and project-based, so the work needing to be done is not on a computer. Even when doing homework, the child should be in a common area in full view of the family. This ensures that the ‘homework’ time is not actually spent checking other sites.
Another successful approach is to talk with your child about the amount of screen time they think is reasonable and necessary. Even young children can contribute to these conversations which allows them to be heard and increases their buy-in of the jointly decided solution. They might be able to earn screen time by accomplishing chores or spending time reading. For example, my children were able to earn 30 minutes of screen time for every hour they spent reading. By involving your child in taking ownership of their screen time, they learn to develop a healthy relationship with technology. They learn the pros and cons and, with ongoing parental support and monitoring, develop good habits.
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